Ben Simmons is out for Game 4 against the Celtics. Steve Nash is on the hot seat with his team down 3-0. And the Nets, who were viewed as strong title contenders at the start of the season, are facing early elimination and a long offseason. Can Brooklyn turn things around? Here are four questions surrounding the Nets ahead of Game 4.
1. What are your thoughts on Ben Simmons being ruled out for Game 4?
Howard Beck: It’s the only sane choice. It shouldn’t even be a question. Listen, the idea of Ben Simmons making his Nets debut in the playoffs — after a 10-month layoff, after back problems and confidence issues and everything else that transpired in Philly — was always a stretch. But now? With the Nets down 3-0, and a zero percent chance of winning the series? Why in the world would you play him now?
Chris Mannix: Is there any way to see this other than Simmons quitting? For days we heard about how he was healthy, ramping up, Nash — who has been as pessimistic as anyone when it comes to expectations for Simmons — said on Saturday he came out of a hard workout healthy. And now this? No one expects Simmons to be Simmons. But KD is out there playing 46 minutes — Simmons can’t spell him for ten? I can’t imagine this is going over well in that Nets locker room.
Chris Herring: Just one more sign of how dysfunctional this Brooklyn season has been. Even before Game 3, me and several others around the league were wondering: What sense does it make to suit him up for Game 4 if Brooklyn goes down 3-0? Now the hype around his return looks even more foolish.
Robin Lundberg: Ben Simmons has managed to rub another fanbase the wrong way before he has even played a game. This situation has been awkward for a while but it appeared his return was imminent. I’d imagine the Nets organization is not happy with how this went down.
Rohan Nadkarni: To quote a Love Island contestant, it is what it is, mate. I didn’t think Simmons was going to come back once Brooklyn lost Game 3. I’m mostly just bummed out. Simmons is a talented player who has now lost a full year of his career. I want to see everyone competing at full throttle in the playoffs. Even if Simmons isn’t going to reach the heights many thought he would be early in his career, it’s not fun seeing him in street clothes during the postseason. Hopefully he gets back on track, because I believe he can still have an impact in high leverage moments for the right team.
Michael Pina: It’s hardly a surprise. Regardless of what Simmons or the Nets got leading up to Sunday’s news, the idea of someone who hasn’t played professional basketball in a year making his debut on a different team with teammates he has zero seconds of experience with — thrust into a totally new role against the best defense in the NBA after suffering a back injury that kept him out for months — never made much sense.
2. Should Steve Nash be on the hot seat with the Nets on the brink of elimination in Round 1?
Beck: Everyone should be. When a team with superstar talent and legit title aspirations flames out in the first round (and possibly gets swept), everyone has to be held to account: players, coaches, team execs. But players don’t get fired, and front offices always blame the coach first. Nash is ultimately responsible for an unimaginative, iso-heavy offense that sputtered against an elite defense, though it’s fair to wonder whether any coach could have persuaded his two stars to run a real offense anyway.
Mannix: I would never have thought Nash would be in trouble coming into this series. But the way Ime Udoka has dominated this coaching matchup, you have to wonder if Nash, an unconventional choice when the Nets hired him, is the right guy to coach this team.
Herring: Based on how we know things generally work? Probably. Someone generally answers for this level of failure, in the same way that Frank Vogel just did. That doesn’t mean Nash is the biggest problem here. Any number of things could be pointed to. But he was quite slow about making noteworthy adjustments in this series; one of the team has been competitive in, despite the lack of cohesion.
Nadkarni: Should he? Probably not. Will he get fired? Probably yes. Nash hasn’t had a great series in terms of the Nets’ halfcourt offense and finding ways for Durant to get going. At the same time, Brooklyn is actually scoring at a great rate against Boston’s defense. The front office hasn’t exactly helped the defense by collecting old power forwards and small guards to surround KD & Kyrie. And Nash’s job is much more than X’s and O’s, because I don’t know any coach outside of prime Phil Jackson who could manage a locker room as rocky as Brooklyn’s has been. Nash is almost certainly going to be the fall guy, but the Nets’ stars probably deserve a bigger share of the blame.
Pina: Nash hasn’t coached a brilliant series but there’s only so much they can do against a better, deeper, younger, more disciplined and complete team. Nash didn’t trade James Harden or convince Kyrie Irving not to get vaccinated. He didn’t cut James Johnson or sabotage Ben Simmons’ rehab. The Nets faced so many obstacles this season. Many were self-inflicted, but hardly their coach’s fault. (That said, if Quin Snyder leaves Utah, Brooklyn should do whatever it takes to hire him.)
Lundberg: Yes. Many things have been out of Nash’s control and it is unfair to blame him alone for what has happened. But this is a team that needs more direct leadership and attention to detail, which is not something Nash has provided.
3. What do the Nets need to do to win Game 4?
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Beck: It’s too late for this discussion. This series is over. Cue the Vince Carter dunk contest gif.
Mannix: Keep the turnovers low, move the ball offensively and don’t let Tatum go off. It’s not an unwinnable game, but my question is did the Game 3 loss take the spirit from Brooklyn.
Herring: Literally anything the team can do to influence more off-ball movement would be nice. The whole “give it to KD or Kyrie, then get out of the way” strategy hasn’t reaped much in the way of dividends; particularly with Durant acknowledging that he’s beginning to overthink his offensive sequences as he gets doubled by Boston. Things are too stagnant.
Lundberg: Kyrie Irving needs to have a big scoring game as I think that is more likely than KD doing so against this defense; Irving is more improvisational in his attacks. That and the team needs to play with pride and play players who will, like Blake Griffin did in Game 3.
Nadkarni: They have to find some kind of answer defensively. Again, Brooklyn’s offensive rating has actually been better than what it was during the regular season! (That’s admittedly complicated considering the injuries and there’s some sample-size chicanery, but still!) The Nets are getting killed in small lineups and play too many guys who can’t hide against Boston’s wings. (Cutting James Johnson especially feels like a mistake now.) Their attention to detail has also been comical for a team in a playoff series. Ultimately, I think Brooklyn’s best bet in Game 4 is to play Nic Claxton for more minutes, and hope KD finally plays like KD.
Pina: Cross their fingers and hope Kevin Durant shoots better than 36% from the floor.
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4. Who will win Game 4?
Beck: The Celtics. The Nets are ready to check out.
Mannix: Boston. I just don’t think the Nets have the fire to get back into it.
Herring: Boston. Kyrie’s comments praising the Celtics have sounded like postmortems for a couple of games now. Boston has a ton of confidence, and Robert Williams is back. The Nets are lost in the wilderness, and the one shot in the arm they had on the way, Simmons, is still on the shelf, after all this time.
Lundberg: The Celtics. I can’t see how one can pick against them at this point. While everyone is dissecting the Nets, Boston deserves credit. They’ve looked like a possible all-time great defensive team in the making. And Jayson Tatum has been the best player in the series.
Nadkarni: The Celtics win handily.
Pina: The Celtics. This defense is just too good. Rob Williams is back. Jayson Tatum is far and away the best player in this series, averaging 30, 8 and 5 while serving as Kevin Durant’s primary defender. Jaylen Brown can get whatever shot he wants, whenever he wants it. Meanwhile, Brooklyn’s big rotational adjustment in Game 3 was… Blake Griffin. Also the Nets are too one-dimensional to defend at a high level for 48 minutes.
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